GUILFORD, Maine — Free-throw totals often reflect defensive over-aggression, but just as often they reflect offensive aggression.
For the boys basketball team at Piscataquis Community High School, they also reflect a chance to move on to the Cross Insurance Center after the seventh-seeded Pirates made 12 of 14 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to hold off No. 10 Bucksport 59-55 in a Class C North preliminary game Wednesday evening.
“We were 11-7. The 11 we won we were a good free-throw shooting team. The seven we lost we weren’t. It’s been like that,” said first-year Piscataquis head coach Alden Gregory. “We lose close ones when we don’t make them and we win games when we do. Tonight was a night when we made them and if we can keep that going we’ll be OK.”
The win was the second in as many years in the preliminary round for PCHS against Bucksport — the Pirates defeated the Golden Bucks 63-49 in last year’s 7-10 play-in game.
It also sets up a rematch in the quarterfinals as Piscataquis (12-7) will head to Bangor to face No. 2 Fort Fairfield at 11:05 a.m. next Wednesday. Fort Fairfield, also the second seed last year, defeated PCHS 66-43 in last year’s quarters en route to the regional final.
“It means a lot,” said Piscataquis senior guard Bryce Gilbert. ”We went in my freshman year and lost and went back again last year and lost so it would be nice to go get a win.”
Gilbert, a 1,000-point career scorer who will continue his career next year at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, was the most offensively aggressive of the Pirates against Bucksport. He totaled 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists with 10 points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.
“He’s really quick, he’s tough, and he doesn’t need any room to get his shot off,” said Bucksport coach Larry Deans, whose team ends its season at 15-4. “We looked at him on film and knew we couldn’t press him at all. I thought we did a relatively good job on him after the first quarter, I thought we helped on him pretty well.”
Senior center Damyan True added 15 points for the Pirates, who outscored Bucksport 18-5 from the line for the game.
“They shot 12 of 14 in the fourth quarter alone so that was the game right there,” said Deans. “We shot 5 of 10 for the game, and that tells you we weren’t driving the ball.”
Junior center Tyson Gray led Bucksport with 21 points and 11 rebounds, including 12 points in the first half to help the Golden Bucks stay within 29-28 at intermission.
Senior guards Tanner Stegner and Chase Carmichael added 15 and 13 points, respectively, as Bucksport went on to take three different one-point leads over the first nine minutes of the second half only to have Piscataquis answer each time.
PCHS finally took control with eight unanswered points after Gray converted a reverse layup for a three-point play that tied the game at 47-47 with 5:15 left in the contest.
Adam Bagley scored off an inbounding pass from Gilbert to give Piscataquis the lead and the Pirates followed with six straight free throws, including two by Gilbert after Bucksport was whistled for an intentional foul on a fast-break attempt that gave PCHS a 53-47 lead with 3:03 left.
The Pirates didn’t score on the possession immediately after the intentional free throws, but Bucksport came up empty on its next trip before freshman Caleb Willis made two from the line to make it 55-47 with 2:18 left.
Bucksport scored six straight points to get within 55-53 on Stegner’s 3-pointer with 1:36 left, but the Golden Bucks didn’t score again until just 2.7 seconds remained while Gilbert made 4 of 6 late free throws to seal the victory.
“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice,” said Gilbert, “because that’s been the difference in a lot of our games this year.”
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